This season, it’s become abundantly clear that designers are trying to break out of the New York fashion week mold. Whether it’s rethinking the standard runway format or forgoing a show altogether, brands are embracing change more so than any time in recent memory—and that’s a good thing. The latest label to buck the system is Ruffian, which will be presenting its Spring ’15 collection in Hollywood on October 27 after years of holding down the Saturday 9 a.m. slot at Lincoln Center.
For designers Brian Wolk and Claude Morais, the spontaneous decision to relocate their show followed a cross-country road trip peppered with trunk shows and press events that ended in Los Angeles, where they accepted a creative residency three months ago. With the help of the L.A. Tourism & Convention Board, the Ruffian boys set up a second studio in the historic Hancock Park neighborhood, and have been working on a lineup—all sourced and produced locally in L.A.—inspired by their new home-away-from-home. And while many forward-thinking talents (with Hedi Slimane being the poster boy, of course) have treated the City of Angels as a laboratory for ideas, few established brands have actually dared to show there until now, so perhaps Ruffian will spark a West Coast movement.
On the eve of NYFW, Style.com spoke with Wolk and Morais about leaving NYFW to show Spring ’15 in California, L.A.’s cultural renaissance, their plans for the future, and more.
Why was showing in L.A. this season the right move for you?
We have always been inspired by our community of artists. Over the last couple of years, many of our most talented fine arts collaborators and collector friends have moved to Los Angeles to show and to live. The West has always been associated with creative freedom and a wide-open landscape. During our three months’ residency here, we have had boundless inspiration, experienced extraordinary enthusiasm for our work, and have had the opportunity to form a fresh expression of our aesthetic within a new cultural context.
Did you know you would end up staying in L.A. after your #ruffianroadtrip?
We decided to cross-country by car after our Fall show, with L.A. being the final destination. At the time, we didn’t know L.A. would become the source of inspiration for our next collection, but sometimes you have to be able to listen to l’air du temps and react. We quickly discovered through our travels that the fashion diaspora was not limited to the geographical boundaries of any one city. The world has changed, and the availability of fashion online has blurred the boundaries of previously established fashion capitals. Now the global experience is informing the future of fashion more than ever. We as designers need to stay on our toes, and keep moving along with our clients. Being stagnant doesn’t seem to be the mode of the time.
Would you agree that L.A. is having a fashion moment?
Absolutely. The mood is palpable. It’s kind of a perfect storm of irreverence, street style, cinematic allure, and unapologetic glamour. Whether it’s a demure late-night dinner at the Sunset Tower, Giorgio’s Disco Saturday nights at The Standard, or a “cool” iced coffee at Intelligentsia on Abbot Kinney, the diversity of the L.A. fashion repertoire and its focus on lifestyle is truly its strength.
Has the city changed your aesthetic in any way?
I think it’s always exciting to be in a new environment when you design. In terms of our aesthetic, we’ve always liked to say we dress the “impeccable rebel,” and that hasn’t changed so much. What has changed is the new environment that we’re in, in terms of different clients and different collaborators who help form the collection.
What can you tell me about your plans for the show and the Spring ’15 collection itself?
We’re going to be showing at Sarah Gavlak’s recently opened gallery in Hollywood on the corner of North Highland Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard. Sarah is someone we’ve known for quite a while from New York, who also has a gallery in Palm Beach. Her new space is incredible, and she works with a group of artists who we have strong relationships with. We’re still figuring out the actual logistics of the show, but really want to reflect Los Angeles in terms of the way we present it. The collection itself is inspired by the graphics of the city, and you’ll learn more about that as we get closer to the show.
Do you anticipate that showing in L.A. in October will affect your sales in any way?
All of our retailers are totally on board, and we’re going to be doing our market in New York as per usual. Obviously, we had extensive conversations with everyone before making the decision to go ahead with the plan. For buyers, it’s a rolling calendar anyways these days, and they are open to looking at Spring and Fall with different timing. It’s going to be an interesting experiment for us, but at the end of the day, the business element is just as important to us as the art.
Do you plan on staying there, or will you return to NYFW?
Well, New York is where our books and our lives and our apartment and our permanent studio are, but we would like to keep a studio here in Los Angeles. The bicoastal life has been good to us, so you’ll have to stay tuned.
It’s no secret that fashion week is jam-packed, and the conundrum of New York’s hectic, often overlapping schedule has been at the center of industry conversations. Brands have begun to switch it up—Oscar de la Renta last season cut his invite list in half; Rag & Bone hosted a photography presentation in lieu of a runway event to debut its Spring ’15 menswear range; Gareth Pugh is this season “disrupting” New York fashion week with a secret extravaganza; and Opening Ceremony is putting on a play instead of sending models down the runway. Band of Outsiders’ Scott Sternberg is the latest designer to take the road less traveled, this morning announcing that he won’t be showing at all. Instead, he’ll be focusing his attentions on the September 7 launch of his first New York flagship. “I mean, literally, I thought nobody would notice,” laughed Sternberg over the phone from L.A. “I just figured we’d fly under the radar and focus on the store this season,” he added. Naturally, however, his choice to forgo a runway romp instantly made headlines, in part due to comments the designer made last season condemning the “dog-and-pony show” that fashion week has become. Here, Sternberg speaks exclusively with Style.com about why he’s skipping the catwalk; his new store and collection; and why, in reality, he doesn’t mind the “dog-and-pony show” so much after all.
So why did you decide to skip the show this season?
You know, to us here in L.A. who are sort of living in our own bubble, it was so obvious. We’ve been thinking about it for a while. Somehow it became a news item. Fashion week is a platform to put ideas out there and be part of the fashion dialogue. But it’s also a really, really dense platform now. If you look at that calendar, there are a million shows a minute. What are we ultimately trying to do when we step back and think about it? We’re trying to convey a message about the brand and where the brand’s at. Normally, that’s through a collection, but it felt like this season, even just from a clarity-communication perspective, we wanted the message to be about the store. I didn’t think it was a big deal to not have a presentation. Once we started talking about it with our PR and other people in New York, they were like, “Really? Huh. OK. Maybe we should rethink this.” But ultimately, the collection’s really strong. It stands on its own, even on a rack. We’re opening a showroom behind the store, and when we have the opening event a week from Saturday, the showroom will be open as well and the collection will be in there.
So editors will still be able to go into the showroom and touch, feel, and experience the clothes?
Oh, yeah. The collection has a rich narrative behind it just like anything else we do. The beauty of me not sitting in castings and fittings and going through this laborious process of putting on a show is that I can really focus on the store and focus on the business aspects. I’m both the creative and the business leader of the company, so there’s a lot to do there. Beyond that, I’ll actually be able to take a lot of press appointments and do what we do with the pre-collections, which is talk people through the pieces.
Do you find that one-on-one experience with editors and buyers more beneficial than a show?
Yeah. For me, I think it’s more about you guys. It’s about an editor or a reviewer or a stylist. And you know, there’s always an opportunity to tell the story in a different way. I think if I just sat in a showroom season after season, holding items up and having a model walk in a look or two, that wouldn’t be so compelling. But if you look at the totality of how many collections we’ll be putting together and how many we’ve shown over the years, it seems this is a valid way to do it one season. Then, another season, we can have a rock-ish runway show and another season it can be a straightforward presentation. With menswear, we’ve tried to redefine what a fashion show is and engage editors and consumers directly during fashion week in a way that’s not so reliant on the typical format of a presentation or a runway show. I think [all these methods] are effective, and I think it’s really the totality of the message over time and the story of the brand and how all those pieces sort of play together.
Do you think that you’ll show next season, or will you try to do something a little bit different?
We’ve done shows for men where I put a model in a gallery window in Paris for three days and filmed him changing into 32 looks. We had a scavenger hunt one season. I’m a Hollywood guy, so I’ve always felt that a show, no matter if it’s a static presentation or something else, it’s gotta be a show! And listen, you don’t want to make it difficult for everybody. There are a lot of people showing, there’s a lot of great stuff out there—you guys are all busy. Ultimately, it should be convenient, for lack of a better term. Easy, but certainly not always reliant on the same format. Who knows what we’ll do next season. I’m sure it’ll be much more straightforward.
Last season, in an interview with Apartamento, you spoke about the “dog-and-pony show” that fashion week has become. Do you have any thoughts on what we can do to make fashion week more user-friendly and less manic?
Oh, the Apartamento me-in-a-bad-mood-giving-an-interview piece. Yes. Note to self: Don’t take interviews when you haven’t slept the night before. That all came across a little harsh. I actually think the dog-and-pony show at its best is pretty great! I mean, what a great opportunity to be wildly creative in front of all these wildly receptive, creative people in their own right! I do think it’s a bit of a grind season after season if you can’t open yourself up and have the confidence to say, “OK, I’m going to do it a little differently this time.”
When I look at a European show calendar, it definitely seems a little more sane and certainly less democratic, but probably more palatable for an editor. But look at how much fashion images have proliferated into mainstream culture. Social media is the platform—the content is so ripe, it’s so out there, and it’s great for all of us. It’s taken the exclusivity out of what this world used to be, and I think that’s for the betterment of the business. So it’s not such a bad thing, but it’s also tough when you see young designers getting trapped in the cycle and spending a lot of time and resources on a show and not backing up to think about the bigger picture.
Are you worried at all about the repercussions of not showing?
No. Listen, I’m going through the process with Elisa, our stylist. We’ll spend our Labor Day weekend creating the looks out of the products that we’ve been laboring over for months. We’re still doing the looks and we’re still shooting them. When we do the looks, we take them just as seriously—it’s the same conversation as if you’re having a runway show or a presentation or whatever it is. It’s sort of that final step before the campaign. Honestly, the images will still be on Style.com and on our social media. They’ll be as accessible as any show. People will come to the store. And in terms of the images you want out there in the world-world, the store’s the news.
You mentioned you have done some experimental presentations, and now we have Opening Ceremony doing a full-on play, Gareth Pugh coming to New York for a big production, etc. Do you think this is the new way to do things—these off-the-beaten-path presentations?
I hope so. The reality is this: Originally, the purpose of showing was for press and buyers. It was for the market. It wasn’t for the world. And now, inevitably, it’s for everyone. So I think a brand like Opening Ceremony or a brand like Band or somebody who’s not a serious European fashion house can really take this awesome platform—the world’s attention is on New York for a week—and try to do something different. But again, the flip side is there’s a wholesale business. You’re selling a collection and you’ve got to do that within a short period of time. How much time do editors have? If everybody went outside the box, nobody would be inside the box. It would be a very long fashion week with lots of commutes to, like, far out in Brooklyn.
Are there any hints you can give us about the store or the upcoming collection?
The collection is tight. The inspiration started with these graphics taken from Brazilian jazz records from the mid-’60s. They’re so rad. They’re a Tropicália-inspired world of graphics, and I took those and did a lot of research on Brazil and Tropicália in that time period. I looked at all these Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographs. It’s cool. And then the store’s just awesome. It’s like everything I want my store to be. Milk Bar is opening up in front, although that won’t be officially open for probably another week and a half, after the health department does all the things they need to do. But it’s crazy. It’s Band. You’ll see. We tried not to do any retail clichés. Not for the sake of just being different, but to try and have this clean slate in people’s heads about what a store could be. I think it should be cool.
Dressing for Fame: Kemal Harris, Stylist to Robin Wright and Idina Menzel, on Making Sure Her Clients Never Show Up Naked-------
If celebrity status is conferred in red-carpet appearances, then no actress today can compete without the help of just the right stylist. As Kerry Washington once told Glamour after she noticeably upped the sartorial ante, “There were a couple of actresses whom I felt were having the upper hand careerwise—because they knew how to work that red carpet.” A carefully crafted collaboration between stylist and client, the perfect look can create an indelible impact on agents, casting directors, and those of us watching from the sidelines. Straight from the epicenter of all things celebrity, we’ve asked some of the industry’s top stylists to share their experiences and impressions from their perch above Tinseltown. With our Dressing for Fame series, we bring you an exclusive, insider look at everything it takes to create those iconic moments captured by a million photo flashes.
As one part of the bicoastal styling team of Kemal & Karla, Kemal Harris brings her New York sensibility to her enviable roster of clients. Whether she’s shaping Robin Wright’s killer figure in a custom backless Ralph Lauren jumpsuit or helping Idina Menzel realize her red-carpet potential from behind that powerhouse voice, Harris has a singular aesthetic that draws on both contemporary and historical fashion. Here, she talks exclusively with Style.com about why styling as a pair keeps clients covered, how Feist changed her career, and why she’ll never be a yes-man.
How did you originally form your partnership with Karla Welch?
We met at fashion week through a mutual friend and always kept in touch. I was working with the singer Feist here in New York and connected her with Karla for her L.A. appearances, and through that connection, our bicoastal styling team was born.
What is the process like working as a duo?
Well, clients are never in one spot for very long. Their movie will premiere in L.A., and then they fly to NYC for all the press appearances. I live in NY and Karla is in L.A., so it certainly doesn’t hurt that no matter where they go, we can make sure they’re never naked.
Do you think there is a certain sensibility you’re expected to maintain as a New York-based stylist, as opposed to being in L.A.?
It’s a fact that editorial styling is much different than styling for the red carpet. They almost require different sides of the brain, and neither is easier than the other. Regardless of what medium you’re working in, I think it helps to have a very strong sense of your aesthetic, the sensibilities and requirements of your clients, and an almost preternatural grasp of how garments will photograph.
Do you think your clients expect something specific from you, and if so, what is that?
Personally, I think it’s so important for a stylist to be honest and straightforward with their clients. They’re depending on us to make sure they look their best on their big night. An effective stylist is not a yes-man.
Stockholm fashion week began yesterday, and since we can’t be there to report on the collections, Swedish label Cheap Monday is live-streaming its show right here on Style.com. This season’s lineup, titled “Mindless Optimism,” is all about childish naïveté—think bows, puff sleeves, and scribbly prints—mixed with punk-inspired checked shirts and bleached unisex jeans. (You read that correctly: Even boys can wear the “Spray-On” skinny jeans.) Watch the live show, above, and check back later this week for our daily Stockholm street-style updates.